Picking up after cyclone Seroja
Severe tropical cyclone Seroja crossed the coast of Western Australia on 11 April, bringing destructive winds that wrecked homes, uprooted trees and left farming communities isolated and without power.
As always, the wellbeing of people and communities were first priorities.
While the most severe impacts were seen in Kalbarri and Northampton, cyclone Seroja kept up its intensity for hundreds of kilometres, causing significant damage to farming communities at Yuna and Nabawa as well as further south at Mingenew, Carnamah, and Coorow.
Elders Geraldton’s Branch Manager, George Panayotou, said the cyclone tracked over his place at around 9:00 pm on Sunday evening. By early Monday morning, he was at the branch to assess the damage.
“I remember thinking it was strange that the gates were closed, but the roller doors were wide open,” he said.
“Then when I came into the yard, I saw that the roller doors had blown inside on top of all our merchandise and the wind pressure had blown out the skylights.”
At this point, his response priorities were people, power and products.
George was able to hire a generator, which powered the fridges and protected their stock of animal health vaccines, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It also powered many priceless cups of tea and coffee.
“The main thing was to get the kettle on, and everybody’s spirits rose after that,” he said.
After contacting all the staff from Geraldton and Northampton to check on their safety, George and the Elders team also followed through with practical and emotional support, including arranging emergency accommodation where necessary.
“Some of our people had been hit hard. Having your roof blown off while you’re lying in bed at night, that’s a major shock,”
“Everybody reacts differently in times of adversity. Some people need to be busy with a broom and others need time out, but in the aftermath, the one thing the cyclone did was bring us all together. That was probably the most positive thing to come out of it.”
Support for Elders people
“The support from Elders was sensational,” said George.
“The company really lived up to its promise of supporting our people and communities.
“We didn’t feel as though we had to go it alone, in fact there was an army of support behind us. We knew that at any time we could pick up the phone and there was somebody there to help.”
The Elders Staff Foundation fund also provided much needed monetary support to the 30 local staff and their families. Up to $2000 was paid to individuals severely affected by the cyclone, while a minimum of $150 was provided to staff to help restock their fridges after nearly a week without power.
“We were all affected in some way, so that money deposited straight into our bank accounts just kept us going when we needed it,” George said.
All Elders staff are invited to be members of the Elders Staff Foundation fund for just $1.15 per fortnight, giving them the chance to help out Elders people in times of natural disaster or personal tragedy. The funds collected from staff are matched dollar for dollar by Elders.
Support for farming communities
During the ongoing clean-up in the Northampton and Geraldton branches, Elders continued to be there for its local farming community. George said many growers were facing severe stress and were struggling to cope, so reaching out and putting them in touch with friends and neighbours was critical.
In the following weeks, they were also able to visit clients and offer disaster relief terms that would see them through to after harvest.
“That was so important in just taking the pressure off and helping growers make the most of the cracking season.”
George said the best way Elders was able to support local farmers was by continuing to supply fertilisers, fungicides and everything else needed to get their crops established and protected through to harvest.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve had to just push the cyclone impact aside and get on with the job,” he said.
“The rain this year has been a blessing for growers and they are determined to make the most of it. Everyone’s saying it’s a one in 20 year season.”
Header image: Still smiling after the destruction caused by Cyclone Seroja are (L-R) Hayley Marshall (Rural Products Sales Rep), George Panayotou (Branch Manager) and Craig Hardy (Rural Products Sales Manager), pictured here at the Elders Northampton branch.
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